As Mark Venzke drove students around in his yellow cab during all hours of the night, he tried to think of ways to liven up the ride.
He decided to create the Chocolate Cab. He would ask trivia questions to his passengers and reward them with chocolate, win or lose.
To his customers' dismay, the Chocolate Cab stopped running in July when Venzke was let go.
Now, the 54-year-old hopes to continue spreading knowledge and fresh ideas within the city.
Venzke is one of eight people running for the at-large 1 seat on the Gainesville City Commission. Elections are Jan. 31.
After reading the platforms of his fellow candidates in October, Venzke said, he decided to run because he knew he could "do better."
The city's biggest concern should be its energy policy, Venzke said. He said he wants to rework the current policy to become more efficient and less expensive, especially for those living on the city's east side.
By establishing privately owned, electricity-generating facilities throughout the city, he said, energy conservation would increase and residents' utility bills would decrease. He said he also wants to better insulate older homes and sees Gainesville Regional Utilities as an agent to help with the installations.
As a staunch environmentalist, Venzke said he wants to focus on stricter cleanup plans for the Cabot-Koppers Superfund site, a former wood processing plant.
Gainesville must band together with other communities that have Superfund sites, he said, and then pressure the federal government for safer, more thorough cleanup plans.
"It will not cure the disease," he said. "It will only cause more disease."
Venzke said he is no stranger to promoting environmental issues on a national level. He served on an environmental subcommittee of the Reform Party when Ross Perot was running for president in 1996.
For more than 12 years, he has been sending out daily emails on environmental, political, economic and cultural issues to almost 500 friends and acquaintances across the U.S.
"Unfortunately, I've engaged in so much of that activity that I've devoted less time than I should to my own livelihoods," Venzke said.
Venzke studied landscape architecture at Purdue University. He left in 1982 and worked as a design draftsman and technical illustrator for seven years in his hometown of Chicago.
He moved to Florida in 1998 to take care of his father after his mother died. He has since worked as a server at a beer garden in a Renaissance fair, a horticulturalist, a basketball official and as an electrical-service salesman. He was once a conductor on an antique tourist railway.
A resident of Gainesville for 10 years, Venzke has lived in his neighborhood surrounding the St. Francis House in southeast Gainesville for about five years.
If elected to the City Commission, Venzke would like to start business training programs for kids as young as 12 years old and build more business incubators across the city.
"In 20 years from now, I want the act of people starting and growing their own business to be as natural as breathing," he said.
Mark Venzke, 54, is one of eight people running for the at-large 1 seat on the Gainesville City Commission.